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New Unit to augment protection of whistleblowers in the public service

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There is a new unit created to ensure that employees are protected from being victimised for uncovering and speaking out against malpractice in the public service space.

Speaking on 702’s Bongani Mbingwa’s Breakfast Show recently, Public Service and Administration Minister, Ms Ayanda Dlodlo said that four years ago, government released a guide on reporting of unethical conduct, corruption and non-compliance in the public service.

She said the guide was aimed at helping departments to ensure that public servants are safe in the workplace through establishing a reporting system where employees would be able to report corruption internally, apart from other available avenues.

According to the Minister, government also adopted the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) 2019 convention, which looks at issues of forms of harassment and violence in the workplace.

“We need to attract the right skill…we need to attract people with the right attitude for their work, but we also need to ensure that the world of work for the people that are employed in government is the world of work that is free from harassment…that is free from violence…that is also free from all occupational acumen that come with the world of work.

“We also created a technical assistance unit in the department…we did everything that we could to ensure that there are guidelines of ethics in the workplace on anti-corruption, non- compliance of the public service act and departments are really entrusted with work of ensuring that individuals who report [malpractice] are protected,” she said.

Minister Dlodlo said, it is the responsibility of the newly established Public Administration Ethics, Integrity and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit, Protected Disclosures Act, the law enforcement agencies and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), to ensure that employees get the protection they require and deserve.

Referring to the killing of whistleblower and Gauteng Health official, Babita Deokaran, the Minister said: “I can’t tell Babita’s friends, her family what needs to be done because what we need to do is to ensure that the protected disclosures act actually works for people who report unethical behaviour and corruption and make sure that protection is given to them.”

The Unit was established in terms of the Public Administration Management Act, 2014 (PAMA).

In terms of the Public Service Act, the Minister is responsible for establishing norms and standards relating to labour relations, integrity, ethics, conduct and anti-corruption in the public service.

Minister Dlodlo said the unit would complement the ILO’s convention that is designed to eliminate harassments who are unnecessarily hounded out in the public service.  

“They (employees) are hounded out of their jobs, in certain instances restructured out of the organogram…so there are many ways and tactics including juniorisation of their posts. The public service guide is very clear on what needs to be done by a Head of department and the responsibility that the executing authority has to take to ensure that all public servants are treated with dignity in the workplace,” she said.

Suspension of public servants

It has been reported that over R 2 billion had been spent on salaries of suspended public servants or public servants on precautionary suspension in the 2019/2020 Financial Year.

“We have instances of suspensions that go on for two to three years if not more only because the individual is seen as a troublemaker, obstacle or undesirable in the workplace.

“I have always said do not rush to suspend people…there is a lot of work that can still be done by those who are already suspended… [Instead of suspending them], they can be shifted from where they were working to another area where their services will be greatly appreciated.

“The suspensions are not an adequate response to the issues of corruption, malfeasance…to issues of misconducts in the workplace. We need to look at many things that will help us to utilise individuals who are suspended for minor issues.

“This is [the reason] why we established the technical unit to deal with this issues including assisting departments, accounting officers and supervisors together with the National School of Government to ensure that supervisors are adequately equipped to deal with issues of discipline.

“The first thing supervisors do is to suspend a person and hope that the case will civil off and the individual will just fly away into the sky…these are some of the things that we are working on, she said adding that it is wrong to have people suspended for two years and not take them through the disciplinary process.

This she said is a burden on the state…a burden on citizens because services do get affected in one way or another.

According to the norm in the public service, disciplinary cases are expected to be finalised within 3 months (90 days) of initiation of the disciplinary process.